Should we fear AT&T's "sponsored data" plan?
Should we fear AT&T's "sponsored data" plan? - 
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AT&T’s newly-announced “sponsored data” plan will allow companies to pay the bandwidth charges for content they stream to customers using AT&T mobile services. But some advocates have raised fears that the arrangement could hurt competition and consumers.  

John Bergmayer is a staff attorney for a group called Public Knowledge. For most of our conversation, he had a hard time convincing me of the arrangement’s downside. If Netflix wants to let me watch "House of Cards" on the train without blowing my data cap, that’s bad… how? Because it hurts Hulu?

But then the conversation got a little closer to home: What about news outlets that produce audio and video content?

“What if Marketplace can’t afford to do deals with AT&T and other providers around the world,” he asked, “to make sure their content is exempt from the cap?”

Right. That’s a worry.  

Teresa Mastrangelo, an analyst with Broadband Trends, doesn’t think sponsored data will change the content game that much. So far the three companies that have signed up -- cloud-computing developer Kony, mobile-ad service Aquoto, and United Healthcare -- don’t include the likes of Netflix.

Mastrangelo thinks sponsored content will be more likely to come out in more manageable chunks -- kind of like free mobile apps supported by ads. Or free stories on news websites like CNN.

Which raises the question of how intrusive the ads could get.

Or, as Mastrangelo puts it: “What are you going to have to endure in order to get the free bandwidth for the content you want to look at?”

Advantage, public media.

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Follow Dan Weissmann at @danweissmann